H.E. Ambassador Francisco Munis is a career diplomat and currently the Ambassador of Malaysia to Hungary. He is also the Malaysian Ambassador to Slovenia and North Macedonia. He talked about his previous diplomatic posts, his favourite Hungarian dishes, the attractions he would recommend you to visit in Malaysia, the Malaysian students studying at Hungarian universities, and he even gave advice to Malaysian tourists visiting Hungary.
Had you visited Hungary in the past before you were appointed Ambassador to Budapest?
Prior to my appointment as the Ambassador to Hungary, I have never set foot in Budapest. Although I did visit some nearby countries and heard a lot about Budapest, it was not opportune for me then to pay a visit. Now that I am residing in Budapest, I have ample of opportunity to visit not only Budapest but the whole of Hungary. It has been over a year now since I last arrived in Budapest and I’ve learned more about Hungary by visiting places and meeting people.
What was your first thought when you were told that the Hungarian capital would provide the setting for the next important chapter in your life?
The eastern European region was foreign to me. Months before my arrival, I took the effort to read as much as I could about the Malaysian-Hungarian relations, the region and the dynamics of Hungary within its region. Indeed, Budapest provided a new chapter in my career and personal life, seeing the world from the Hungarian and eastern European perspectives.
I am also privileged that since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1969, the Malaysian-Hungarian relations is at all times, cordial and friendly. At the bilateral level, both countries have a very good political relation. Both countries also collaborated closely at the multilateral fora. These has facilitated my job to promote and enhance further the friendship between our two countries.
Please tell us a little about your previous diplomatic posts. Which place was the most interesting professionally? And which one was the most exotic?
I have served in several countries for my diplomatic postings. From local culture, politics, geography, demography, environment to its international trade, investment and tourism potentials, every country is different in background and every country is of importance to Malaysia. I would say that all the countries that I have served before including Hungary, were both interesting and exotic in their own way.
Hungary in particular, would be a professionally interesting post, especially in reviving all the pre-pandemic bilateral initiatives that were planned but disrupted during the pandemic years and of course in recommending post-pandemic, new exchanges.
There are many excellent products made in Hungary. Which Hungarian products would likely be in demand in Malaysia? And what kind of Malaysian products can Hungarian customers purchase here?
If we look at Malaysia’s imports from Hungary, it is traditionally and largely dominated by machineries and electrical related products. Likewise, Malaysia’s exports to Hungary were also largely dominated by electrical and electronic products, as well as machineries and some agricultural commodities, such as palm oil and rubber based products. We would like to see these traditional products be complimented with new ones. We have been encouraging both our exporters and importers and business people to look into new areas such tourism related products, environmental technology, food and services.
Regional conflicts around the globe are on the front page of newspapers. When it comes to international and regional volatility, what is Malaysia’s position?
Malaysia puts a lot of value to its relations with other countries and has always urged all parties to address any volatile situation carefully and in the best manner possible. Conflicts could only lead to consequences. For Malaysia, peace, stability and prosperity must always be maintained, in its own region or in other regions.
Malaysia’s position in any volatile situations has always been in line with and in compliance to international law and the United Nations’ Charter. In promoting peace, Malaysia has always called for efforts to restrain and refrain from provocative actions and promoted to all parties to play role to facilitate peaceful dialogue. Malaysia always believes in upholding the principles of the UN Charter and abiding with the UNGA Resolutions.
In its own region, Malaysia’s position for peace is also reflected in its regional grouping of ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations). For example, Malaysia fully subscribes to the ASEAN’s 1976 Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia, which embodies the universal principles of peaceful coexistence and friendly cooperation.
If we look at the recent Joint Communiqué of the 55th ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on 3 August 2022, ASEAN and Malaysia in particular continue to reaffirm respect for sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity, as well as reiterating the call for compliance with international law and the United Nations Charter. The Joint Communique also underlined the importance of an immediate cessation of hostilities and the creation of an enabling environment for the peaceful resolution of conflict and supported the efforts of the United Nations in the search for a peaceful solution.
Simply, for Malaysia, peace must prevail.
Let’s come back to Hungary. You aim to raise awareness of Malaysia’s tourism and trade values through a number of events. What are the most important upcoming events organized by the Embassy?
Based on Malaysia’s tourism data, between the five-year period 2017-2021, Malaysia registered 32,259 Hungarians visiting Malaysia with the highest recorded during pre-Covid pandemic years (2017-2019) and fell to the lowest during the Covid pandemic years (2020-2021).
In terms of bilateral trade, based on the Malaysian trade data, between the five-year period of 2017-2021, total accumulated trade stood at Ringgit Malaysia 7.84 billion (about Euro 1.7 billion) and steadily hovered around Euro 340 million a year even during the pandemic years.
In terms of tourists and trade exchange, we need to increase the volumes and also work towards increasing investment opportunities for both sides.
We have been working closely with our Malaysian and Hungarian partners to promote Malaysia as a destination for Hungarians and we aim to organize more tourism promotion events in Hungary.
We have also been working closely with our Malaysian partners by meeting up with many Hungarian companies and encouraging them to look towards Malaysia for their industry needs.
While, the volume of investment is minimal and much to be desired, we hope that our effort to promote investment opportunities in Malaysia will soon bear result with more Hungarian investors looking towards Malaysia. We are also looking at Malaysia’s participation in local trade and investment events and likewise inviting Hungarians enterprises to participate in similar events in Malaysia.
We hope that soon more new agreements / MOUs, by both public and private sectors will be signed between Malaysia and Hungary. We also hope to see more high-level visits between both countries.
How many Malaysian students enroll in Hungarian universities each year with the help of Stipendium Hungaricum? What are the general experiences of Malaysian students studying in Hungary?
Thanks to the Government of Hungary, we have 30 placements per year for Malaysians to study in Hungary at the various level of studies since 2018. Currently, we have about 80 students all over Hungary studying under the Stipendium Hungaricum programme. We also have some self-sponsored students studying in Hungary. We are encouraging more Malaysians to take the opportunity to study in Hungary under the programme. Most Malaysian students intending to study abroad preferred traditional destinations. In recent years however, many were also looking to study at non-traditional destinations including Hungary.
By studying at new destinations such as Hungary, it would open up new experiences to young Malaysians. Those Malaysians who have completed their studies in Hungary described their experiences as enriching and something different … it is like saying I have graduated from Hungary and it catches attention, as in Malaysia one rarely heard of people graduating from non-traditional destinations. Likewise, Malaysia also welcomes Hungarians to study in Malaysia either by their own or under the various scholarships offered by Malaysian entities to foreign students.
You have been in our country for more than a year. Apart from Budapest, what other Hungarian cities have you visited?
Throughout the one year, I have been around Hungary visiting places and meeting people. I have been to Debrecen and Szeged. I also ventured into other towns such as Miskolc, Gyor, Komarom, the Balaton area, Gyula and some other border towns. I look forward to visit more places in Hungary such as Pecs and Sopron.
What advice or recommendation would you give to Malaysian tourists who are planning to visit Hungary?
We noticed that the number of Malaysian tourists to Hungary is beginning to pick up after the ease of pandemic border restrictions. This is a good sign. The tourism industry provided the platform for people to learn more about the culture of the country they are visiting and this would help to bridge connectivity between the people of our countries.
We would advise and recommend that while Malaysians enjoy their time in Hungary, they should also strive to be responsible visitors by adhering to local laws and they should be well prepared in terms of their documentation and funding before visiting, so as to avoid disruptions during their visit. In the case of emergency, the Embassy is here to facilitate.
What are the three must-see attractions Hungarian tourists should explore when visiting your country?
We welcome Hungarian tourists to Malaysia! The people of Hungary and Malaysia can take the opportunity to visit each other with ease, as both countries facilitated visa free entry for tourism purposes under our bilateral agreement. Malaysian people are also the most-friendliest in welcoming tourists.
I would say Malaysia offers many attractions. The three must experience moments would be the cultural varieties, the beaches and islands and the flora and fauna. All these can be experienced differently in the three different parts of Malaysia, which are the Peninsular Malaysia and the Malaysian Borneo of Sabah and Sarawak.
Malaysia has been welcoming back international travelers after the full reopening of its borders beginning 1 April 2022, two years after the COVID-19 pandemic-related border closures. I would like to welcome all Hungarian travelers visiting Malaysia, Selamat Datang ke Malaysia !
The last question is about Hungarian gastronomy, we just simply cannot miss it. What is your favorite local dish and why?
The Goulash and the Lángos were introduced to me on the day of my arrival in Budapest. I must say that these two dishes go well together and one of my local favourite, as it is tasty and easier to consume anytime of the day. Both dishes are also similar to what we have in Malaysia although prepared differently. I think both these dishes are also popular in Malaysia. I was informed that there is one Malaysian-Hungarian couple who is now residing in Malaysia selling goulash and langos at their home restaurant. There are also many other restaurateurs in Malaysia popularizing these two dishes in their restaurants. On the same sentiment, I wish that one day, there will be a Malaysian restaurant in Hungary.
Source: DNH interview